Getting Started with a Rare Book Collection

Getting Started with a Rare Book Collection 2121 1414 Gaslight Square Shoppes

rare book collection

Thinking about rare books may conjure up visions of English manors with libraries of elegant, leatherbound titles, or a museum display of massive, Medieval tomes. Rare books can be all of those things, but they can also be rather modern and unique with other special qualities. 

How To Begin Your Rare Book Collection

The best way to start collecting anything at all is to first learn about it, and second explore it enough to find out what you like. Antique stores and used bookstores are a fantastic place to start learning about rare and collectible books. Browse the shelves and talk to the people who work there. After all, they already love books and have heaps of useful information for you. 

There’s a category of rare books for everyone, whether it’s first editions of Dr. Seuss, vintage housekeeping magazines, or World War II training manuals. Don’t try to collect what you think will be the most valuable, but find the type of books that make you happy and hunt them down. This will lead to a rare book collection you really love.

Rare Is More Than First Editions and Old Books

How do you know if a book is rare? 

First Editions

First editions are fairly easy to spot by looking at the back of a book’s title page. In general, the older a book is, the more valuable a first edition is. Older books might require a little research. Newer first editions may have little to no value.


It’s a common misconception that “old” books are always rare and valuable. Some old books definitely are, in large part depending on how many are out there.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t collect them, but they won’t be considered rare for the most part.

No One Else Has One

So you tried to estimate a book’s value by looking it up online to see how booksellers are pricing it and could only find one or two copies out there. That’s a decent indication that you’ve found a genuinely rare book.

It Feels Pretty, Oh So Pretty

Books that look beautiful may be more rare, such as hand-bound editions, or those with foredge paintings (a painting on the edge of the pages visible only when the pages are spread at the right angle).

Why, Where, What, Whose?

  • Was your book published somewhere unique or under unusual conditions?
  • Does your book commemorate a special event?
  • Is the content of your book remarkable or otherwise hard to find, such as a family genealogy?
  • Did your book belong to someone noteworthy or infamous? Is it signed by the author?

It’s Seen Better Days

As with most antiques, condition is important. A more common book in uncommonly good condition may be considered rare in some cases. 

So many qualities work together to make a book rare, your best bet is to find an antique store or used bookstore and start browsing. Challenge yourself to find a rare book there that you like and launch your rare book collection!